Before packing our bags and heading back to the day-to-day grind that is real life, we were able to take in a couple more days of fun in the sun/overwhelming amounts of music/drunken record executives. Without further ado, the conclusion of our South by Southwest 2009 coverage:
Friday, March 20th:
It’s hard to cover Friday without sounding self-aggrandizing, so bear with us. Truth be told, CoS had too much going on to really reach out to anything else. With our Brodown Hoedown party taking up the majority of the day and the Listen! showcase stealing away the night, any other festivities took backseat for us, which is somewhat unfortunate given that the likes of Dinosaur Jr., The Hold Steady, DEVO, and even Metallica took the reigns of Austin for a night. But we weren’t crying, we didn’t have much time to, and that’s not to gloat, that’s just stating mere fact.
The fun kicked off a little past noon at the Back Alley Social when eclectic indie rockers Princeton kicked things off with a musically rich set. Of course, with 10 bands scheduled to play within a fiveish hour quota, impressions had to be made quick, something neither Princeton, nor most of the other Brodown participants had much trouble in doing.
A bit of Chi-Town followed as Sybris introduced Austin to its flourishing, Blondie-approved rock melodies, while the soulful Waitsian-esque John Wesley Myers, a Texas-born son of a preacher man, and his Black Diamond Heavies brought the dirt, grind, and some of the heaviest rhythms around.
Because of some time commitments, Gringo Star had to switch time slots and play a shorter set. That didn’t stop the Atlanta quartet from delivering a short but sweet set. The syrupy Southern psychedelia felt good as the afternoon settled in, and brothers Peter and Nicholas Furgiuele led the band through the new hits, including the always catchy “All ‘Yall”. The rockers clad in black might have kept things to a minimum, but they walked off the stage as if they had just played an hour and change.
After a long drive from the sunny confines of Tallahassee, FL, Look Mexico pulled up to the front of the Back Alley Social with their larger than life yet eco-friendly van. The drive didn’t seem to stunt their performance, as it was packed with adrenaline and energy — though, they did have an endless supply of Amp in their trunk. It certainly helped, considering the balmy air that drifted in from the venue’s open doors. Drummer Joshua Mikel felt the heat midway through, playing shirtless in the congested corner of the stage, and hardly stopped once in the set’s unfortunately quick twenty-five minutes. Singer Matt Agrella kept a tight key, nailing down most of the hits off of last year’s Gasp Asp, while Dave Pinkham fooled around with just about every instrument. The addition of Pinkham, Ryan Slate and Ryan Smith has done wonders for the Florida act, and the new material off their forthcoming LP is the band’s best yet, hinting at a potential breakthrough in the coming future.
Backed by only a laptop, a shot of Jim Bean, and enough energy to make all us tired on lookers watch in envy, Astronautalis bounced around both the stage and bar top as he offered a set featuring both songs from his recently released album, Pomegrante, and on-the-spot freestyles. Atlanta all female outfit The Coathangers followed with a quick 20 minutes of spunky punk anthems, while Catfish Haven dished out its psychedelic driven guitar riffs and a sound that perhaps could best be described as a mix between Michael McDonald and Dinosaur Jr.
Unfortunately as time dried up, Chicago’s Blueblood had to make do with a smaller set, and a somewhat rushed environment. It’s a shame really, because the bluesy, soulful sound was kind to the ears. The timing didn’t stop frontman M. Quinn Des Enfants from releasing all he had into the mic. On a song like “The Faster We Lived”, Enfants howled to epic heights, bringing to mind TV on the Radio’s Tunde Adebimpe. From behind some Wayfarers, guitarist Mark Bachara kicked things up a notch, while bassist Shaun Paul Jones and drummer Thomas J. Des Enfantshed a tight rhythm section. For what it was worth, they made it shine.
With wife Rachel Ray busy prepping for her own party, husband John Cusimano and The Cringe took to the Back Alley Social to shell out their bar rock infused melodies. Sure, there was no mac ‘n’ cheese or margaritas, but let’s just say the whole thing reminded us of something you’d see on the porch of Apple Bee’s on a Thursday night…
Following a quick walk down sixth street and stops at CVS and the Pita Pit, Consequence of Sound arrived at the Wave for our official showcase. Considering the eclectic nature of the evening’s bill, the showcase offered an opportunity for SXSW’ers to take in sounds and styles from all backgrounds and genres, an attribute that certainly look to draw in a crowd – at least from our perspective.
In the rather Jimmy Buffett-like confines of Austin’s Wave, Canadian rapper, Shad, stirred up enough energy to get things rolling for our Listen! showcase. The crowd surrounded the stage, consisting mostly of indie-music-loving hipsters that found the smooth rhyming rapper highly accessible. Songs “Compromise” and “I Don’t Like To” went over well, and everyone reacted accordingly to the rapper’s demands (e.g. hands in the air, various clapping, etc). Members of Hey Ocean backed the rapper and provided some live bass and drum beats, though much credit should be given to mixer DJ Teelo, who kept things moving nonstop, leaving little to no dead air space.
Things switched drastically when Eksi Ekso came on after. What’s surprising is the Boston sextet set up remarkably fast. Given their drastic set up (e.g. violins, flugelhorns, trumpets, and keys), the fifteen minutes it took to get things rolling was quite impressive. It was a clever turnabout, however, and the act’s moody ambiance (think Arcade Fire meets the Gutter Twins) held its own. Much of the crowd huddled in front of the group, whose rising and falling sounds could have otherwise been seen as a downer in comparison to Shad’s more engaging beats and rhymes. Though he wore an apprehensive frown most of the time, vocalist Nate Shumaker was modestly pleasant with the crowd’s reactions, and the set turned quite fruitful for the Bostonians.
While the island flavor and lively atmosphere of the Wave seemed to favor Shad’s energetic performance, the low-fi melodies of The Tiny seemed lost in it. Patrons at the front of the venue came off too loud, which made for an awkward atmosphere for the songs to find life in. It wasn’t the group’s fault by any means, though. The Swedish duo, consisting of pianist/vocalist Ellekari Larsson and cellist Leo Svensson, were remarkable. Their timid yet emotional songwriting is by far some of the most underrated material out there, and despite the scene, the two seemed absorbed in it. Svensson showed off his chops, nailing his cello parts, in addition to creating some eerie if not ambient sounds with a saw. The crowd might have been meager, but several fans were in attendance, and one even called out a request, the 2004 single “Closer”. Things ended a bit abruptly when Larsson, from behind her vintage Wurlitzer, smiled and waved everyone adieu.
Any remnants of the simplicity left by The Tiny were all but destroyed once Birmingham, Alabama’s 13ghosts took the stage. Furious alt-country rifts electrified flowed, or should we say, crushed throughout the wave as the band made its way through a 45 minute set, consisting mostly of material from 2008’s The Strangest Colored Lights.
If you’re a longtime reader of CoS, you probably know that we and Kittens Ablaze go way back, so perhaps it was only appropriate that the Brooklynites not only closed their set with “Wandering Sound”, a song the group first debuted on CoS’ One Year Anniversary mixtape, but celebrate their first and only performance of the SXSW week with the smashing of Michelle Young’s cello. Yes, Kittens Ablaze actually destroyed a cello on stage. If that didn’t make an impression of the large crowd gathered, surely the rest of the sounds played from the recently released The Monstorus Vanguard did.
With a Ben Kweller-like sound and a David Lee Roth-like look, Robbert Harrison and Future Clouds & Radar closed out the evening with a bit of Texas flavored alt-rock. Guitar solos were a common sight, as were catchy hooks in songs like “Eighteen Months” and “Feet on Grass”. If anything, Future Clouds & Radar made the 1 a.m. set time almost forgettable.
Saturday, March 21st:
Things started out hot, humid and garlicky on Saturday. Out on Austin’s city limits (literally), New Jersey’s own The Bouncing Souls held an early secret show at The Parlour, complete with acoustic guitars, tired punk rockers, and lots and lots of pizza. Originally scheduled for noon, the doors opened an hour and a half later, and within minutes, every fan was munching on a spinach, cheese, or pepperoni slice. It might seem odd to describe a punk show as “cute,” but it’s really proper here. When Greg Attonito sat down on his chair and started pumping out acoustic tunes, several fans closed in, sitting down Indian-style with greasy slices in hand. A few guests brought children, too. It was surreal. Tattooed, leather-clad punk rockers bobbed their heads to Brian Kienlen’s bass lines while their children danced about to Attonito’s catchy choruses. Cute. Mid-way through the thirty minute set, the band took some requests, which had fans shouting out various tracks from their now sprawling twenty-two year career. It was somewhat confusing, but eventually they chiseled the shouts out down to a select few, nailing down “’87” off their ’99 album Hopeless Romantic and the rather fitting “The Pizza Song” from their last album, 2006’s The Gold Record. Twenty plus years later, these Jersey boys still know how to kick it like kids.
Back in town, things were already wi-wi-wild n’ crazy. It was Saturday, after all. With a sterile blue sky and a happy go lucky sun to boot, writers, fans and industry-alike took note and cluttered the ever popular 6th Street. Bars were bustling, beer bellies were getting some sun, and even “horse cops” were out on patrol. The most popular event of the day, without a doubt, was Rachel Ray’s Feedback Party at Maggie Mae’s. People love their food…and their Hold Steady, New York Dolls, Ra Ra Riot and The Thermals. With a killer lineup and a celebrity guest (the chef herself), Maggie Mae’s was stacked from top to bottom, and the line for those with media badges and wristbands wrapped around the block for a good half a mile. Needless to say, those who attended should have felt very, very special.
Across the street, however, Slip Productions held a day party, Slip+Lovitt=love, at the always awesome Radio Room. Sweating behind the venue’s scum stained, glass storefront, Chicago’s Auxes twisted through a grungy twenty-five minute set with not a second to spare. It was a mid-day gem. Singer-guitarist Dave Laney sang with a heart that belongs to Cursive’s Tim Kasher and a mug that might be mistaken for Paul Westerberg, leading his trio through a plethora of tunes. “Radio Radio”, off their current release Sunshine, went over well. The scatterbrain guitar work (thank you Fender Telecaster Deluxes), alongside the static drumming just felt right. It wasn’t tight by any means, but that’s not the point. Keep a close look out for these gentlemen, especially if you’re in the market to release some pent up angst.
The term indie-rock is misleading and quite possibly the industry’s worst mistake since the ’90s “grunge” label, but regardless, it’s a roundabout category that’s used day after day to generalize something that, well, sometimes is just general. Silver Scooter fits that category. Out on the Radio Room’s back patio, the Austin quartet held a hefty crowd, which seemed odd, as they carry a staple sound that isn’t too exciting. Singer Scott Garred looks and sounds like a bored Rivers Cuomo, while the band itself is a tad stock. It’s unfortunate. The lyrics are intriguing and the song’s seem inviting. Lyrically, “Albert Hall” is a very well written tune, and Garred’s introduction was exciting. He digressed on how the song was named after a dog, of which was named after the recording studio they cut their album at, but when it came down to it, the end product was stale. Even the following song “Dinosaur” proved interesting lyrically, but dull musically — sounding oddly alike Death Cab for Cutie (think: The Photo Album). Regardless, with some more energy, this quartet could do some damage on the indie circuit.
Back inside, Ben Davis & the Jets, which included two members of Auxes, quickly jumped into a short stint. The atmospheric rock sounded vaguely like Sparta a la Porcelain-era, but on stage, it was a quick bore. It was somewhat of a clutter too, and not in the positive sense that made Auxes work. Throughout their set, and back on the patio, post-hardcore New Yorkers, The Van Pelt, put out some music that seemed quite typical of its genre. The act, who broke up in 1997, was a popular choice by the organizer, but the crowd didn’t seem to share her sense of flavor.
Down the street, in the comfortable, air-conditioned confines of the Austin Convention Center, Liverpool’s very excellent Echo & the Bunnymen performed a forty-two minute set for SXSW Live!, a taped event that streamed live for Direct TV. Frontman and former rhythm guitarist Ian McCulloch stepped to the mic, and despite his signature shades, one could tell the Brit was enjoying himself at the festival. “I love being in America,” he said. “It always seems to bring out the best of us.” While awkwardly waiting for the live feed to kick in, McCulloch mumbled a few things to the capacity-filled crowd. Eventually, they started up, opening with the pivotal “Rescue”, which continued with the mellow rocker “Seven Seas”. Lead guitarist Will Sergeant spit out some excellent licks, committing the past tunes to bolder, more accentuated terms. This idea came to fruition with their past chart topper, “The Cutter”, which seems epic now. Even the crowd favorite “The Killing Moon” sounded different. They may be an older, more mellow act, but they’re just as creative as always. When introducing new tune, “Think I Need It Too”, McCulloch curled a sly smile, as if he were holding something from the crowd. He was, but fortunately not for long. The new tune was unleashed and it sounded great. Most importantly though, it seemed relevant, which is rare for an act of their caliber these days. It will be exciting to see where the rest of The Fountain, their upcoming new studio effort, will take them.
Later in the evening, the sun settled on the horizon, ricocheting some rays over Austin’s ambitious skyline. The golden specks on the city’s celebrated Lady Bird Lake highlighted an otherwise perfect day for weather, explaining why a short few thousand patrons flocked to the Auditorium Shores Stage. Whether they were chewing on some sensual funnel cake or guzzling down one Miller High Life after another (hell yeah), everyone was enjoying the scenic, dreamy sounds of Baltimore’s best, Beach House. Performing to one hell of a sized crowd, the North Eastern duo rolled through a breezy set that was inundated with tracks off of last year’s brilliant, Devotion. Following “Wedding Bell” and after drawing a blank on some of the upcoming acts, vocalist and organist Victoria Legrand modestly said, “I’m terrible today,” and further explained, “My brain fell into my taco.” Sadly, they left the audience alone, who would go on to wait day and night for Erykah Badu and later on, Austin’s hometown heroes, Explosions in the Sky.
Day and night isn’t an exaggeration, really. Things started balmy, warm and hopeful by the end of Beach House’s set, only to turn brittle, cold and angry an hour and a half later. For reasons undisclosed, Badu was nowhere to be found on stage, but that was only a part of the disaster. Her supporting act, the incredibly pathetic The Cannabinoids, took an hour to set up, and once they did, they came on with lackluster house jams and monotonous shout outs: “Uh huh”, “Yeah”, “Put yo hands up”, and “Ya’ll ready?” Their digital slogan that read, “The frequency that is controlling the universe” and “This is the human brain”, seemed like a horrible joke by the five hundredth time it flashed. What’s worse, the mix masters left the stage, only to return a shy fifteen minutes later with Badu in tow. It was a jumbled two song set(!), made worse with shoddy mixing. The bass was too high, the vocals too low, and considering the wait time before, the dead noise between each song didn’t remedy the situation much. To say a great portion of the crowd left would be unfair, especially since the line to get in spiraled across the bridge. However, fans and patrons weren’t too happy, and some were surprised a riot hadn’t started — though, that was a dramatic observation, of course.
Hours later, fireworks went off over Austin, celebrating the end to one hell of a week. If you listened closely, you could hear the faint sounds of Explosions in the Sky. Their native instrumentals coasted rather smoothly through the night skies, and although it was lost in the swinging parties and showcases downtown, it was thee best way to soothe the week-long headache the city must have been feeling — even if Kanye West & his Fader party might have argued otherwise.
Hat tip to Jose Ole for additional photo support…